Family networks are clearly a crucial form of support to those narrators who have them, but many speak of broken families. As Amélia points out, relatives were pulled apart by the war: “We are many [in my family], and because of the confusão (the war) we are scattered.” Some narrators’ relatives died in the fighting or as a result of poor living conditions during the conflict.
The long-term practice of labour migration to South Africa has also had a significant effect on family stability. Many narrators have no spouse, often as a result of men working away from home for long periods. Some men develop new relationships and families while away, some never return.
Several narrators express the view that the real poor are those without partners or relatives to work together and offer mutual help. The issue is not just being materially worse off, they point out: for some solitude is the real poverty. Maria says: “[My husband] abandoned me… He married [another] when he was working in South Africa.” Since then, “I’ve been living very badly. A woman without a husband has nobody with whom she can raise her concerns… no one to share her problems with and find ways of overcoming them.”
It is not always men who leave. To survive a bad dry season during Rafael’s long absences in South Africa, his wife started doing business. Her financial success, and the travel it involved eventually resulted in her leaving Rafael and their children. “When she looks at me, she no longer sees any benefit…” he comments, because now “she will never need any favour from me in terms of money.”
In many cases, grandparents step in to help their sons or daughters and end up raising the grandchildren. Arnaldo’s father deserted his family; it was only “possible [to survive] due to the help of our grandfather… he took all responsibility for us”. But this is a hard burden and as Jorgina reflects, “…this makes me live in poverty again because the children of my daughters are supported by me, I give them clothes and enable them to go to school.”
Raquelina is also without a husband but she pays tribute to her fellow villagers’ willingness to help in practical ways, such as when her roof needed repair: “Our custom is to help each other.” But she acknowledges that poverty means people can’t assist “every time you need help”.
Many narrators mention the church – Catholic and other denominations – and the important role it plays in the community. These accounts make clear that its influence extends beyond community and social issues to the private sphere of the family, and that at times it provides crucial support. At least two women, Jorgina and Ucilina, refer to the church as a key institution in their life, not least because it helped their husbands to give up alcohol.